'Walking Dead' Cast, Creators on Season 4's Key Changes, Challenges

How will AMC's zombie drama be different under new showrunner Scott Gimple? THR caught up with Gimple, Robert Kirkman and the cast to get the scoop.
"The Walking Dead" (Inset: Scott Gimple)

AMC's The Walking Dead returns for its fourth season Sunday, this time with its third showrunner, Scott Gimple -- who has been with the series based on Robert Kirkman's best-selling comics since its sophomore run.

Following Glen Mazzara's exit (he parted ways with the series in December, citing creative differences), the zombie drama will pick up a few months after the shocking season finale in which beloved comics character Andrea died at the hands of the Governor, who murdered most of his Woodbury army.

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Rick, meanwhile, is still reeling from Andrea's passing and has shifted his focus from leading the group -- and the scores of Woodbury survivors -- to caring for Carl and baby Judith and the prison's growing farm.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Gimple -- who penned some of the show's most well-reviewed episodes, including Sophia's shocking death and Morgan's return -- as well as Kirkman and the cast to get the details on how the top-rated series will change under its newest showrunner as well the challenges ahead for Rick, Daryl and company. For more on Gimple's approach to season four, read our July interview here. And for more scoops on the upcoming season, check out our chat with Kirkman here and 14 teasers from the cast here.

Scott Gimple (showrunner)
On season four's differences: One thing that is quantifiably different is every single character gets a story. When I approached the season, I started with that. What is each character going through? Some of those stories are bigger than others but they all crash into each other. Last year it was something I wanted to do and everybody wanted to do it [but] it was hard with the story we were telling. This season, knowing the story we were telling, I got to be super-disciplined about this and figure out a way everybody gets their story -- because they're great characters and great actors.

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Robert Kirkman (executive producer/comic creator)
Changes under Gimple: Every season of this show has been different. Season four is going to be the most different season yet. It's much more of a character study than anything we've done. We've been doing a lot of world building in the first three seasons. Season three was the Woodbury season with the Governor. We don't have that entirely separate group of people to deal with this season, so we're able to dive into our characters more. When season four is done, you will have learned more about Daryl Dixon than you have in seasons one through three. The same is true of Michonne, Rick, Carl, Carol, Hershel, etc. We're going to be diving into Glenn and Maggie. We're going to be doing so much with these characters. Characters like Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), who we don't know a lot about. We're going to be looking at Sasha, Beth (Emily Kinney) -- and everybody has really involved storylines that are going to carry through this season that are going to open these characters up. We're going to know who these people are and what they're doing and why they're doing what they're doing. It's good to get to a point where we can finally take the time to do that. Some of them are going to get eaten by zombies and some of them are going to get eaten by other people and bad things are going to happen to all of them in the meantime, but we're going to be doing a lot of character studies, nuts and bolts stuff.

Andrew Lincoln (Rick)
Changes under Gimple: The show has changed, developed and matured with each season. We keep changing things up. For me, repetition is death. If we keep confounding you and throwing the kitchen sink at you, then I think we're doing our job properly.
Rick's challenge: It can be summed up as one question: Can we ever return from the things we've done, from the things that we've perpetrated? From the brutality of this world? Can we love again? Can we live again? That encapsulates certainly Rick's arc and probably many other character arcs this season.

Norman Reedus (Daryl)
Changes under Gimple: The show started with a very hyperventilating pace, then it went into a lot of talking and storytelling because you had to introduce the world and new characters. This season, it breathes. It's heart-wrenching this season. You get to know characters and exactly who they are and what their fears are. There's a personal side this season that breaks your heart. Without losing any of the terror, it leaves a taste in your mouth this season. You really get to know these characters. Your heart gets pulled from your chest. It's insane this season. It's our best season. Our writing staff is so on point. Scott is killing it. No pun intended, but he's killing it.
Daryl's challenge: Daryl is doing so much. He's a reluctant leader and has his eye on Rick and he's like, "When you're ready, Rick." He's having the group leave Rick alone and letting him figure it out himself. Rick has become the brother Merle (Michael Rooker) wasn't. Daryl is keeping people alive and doing what needs to be done. But he's not like, "Hey, let's have a powwow, let me uplift your spirits." He's not that guy. He's such a different character than when we first started -- all of us are. Everything used to come out of the side of his face; he was like, "Don't look at me." There was a shame of who he was going to become if [these changes] did not happen -- he would have been Merle and grown up embarrassed of who he was. This season, he doesn't talk out of the side of his face; he talks directly at you. He talks less and he means what he says.

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Danai Gurira (Michonne)
Changes under Gimple: I don't think there's a huge change. What was built up around her was a big mystery and the beauty of it was it allows us to play with different threats. It doesn't feel like she's different, it's just about Michonne's evolution as a human being. She's with this really great group of people that she's decided she's really going to stick to and be a part of. She's not running off with two pet walkers and going back out there. She takes care of folks in the little ways she does with comic books and gifts; she's evolving. She was blessed by Andrea's "Good, you found them" speech. That was a blessing to her. This season is about that evolution of Michonne that started last season.
Michonne's challenge: Sometimes her biggest challenge is herself, the idea of becoming a real part of this group. It's the whole connection to understanding what truly becoming a community is about. She's very keen to protect and serve and she doesn't like untied ends -- and the Governor is an untied end.

Lauren Cohan (Maggie)
Changes under Gimple: It's totally different. I've always enjoyed Scott's approach, especially in episode 13 when Michonne, Carl and Rick go off and find Morgan (Lennie James) and the way he shines the light on these tiny moments and make them touchstones. That's what we are lucky enough to have almost all the way through the season: These little fractures into people that are just so illuminating and really philosophical and extremely gory. I don't know how he combines them. We have this creepy build into season four that will pick you up like a hook at the back of your neck. It feels like you're scrambling for three episodes.
Maggie's challenge: How many risks do we take? When you hold on really tight to somebody, does it put them more in danger? I think Glenn and Maggie need to take some risks in this world. Wherever there is a possibility of danger, Glenn is trying to keep Maggie away from it -- which is what we saw last season that created this rift between them. One of them needs to be cautious, but Maggie is definitely not the more cautious one this year.

Steven Yeun (Glenn)
Changes under Gimple: Scott is trying to bring it back to the first season in that way of a Frank Darabont-esque [style of] storytelling. Taking a lot of breaths, finding some quiet in this expansive universe that is potentially there, but also hammering those hard notes, too. It's this beautiful up-and-down roller-coaster kind of chaos: beautiful quiet moments and horrifying potent moments.
Glenn's challenge: The biggest challenge at this point with Maggie and Glenn is understanding each other's perspectives. They're both in a great place together but they have slightly different ideals in terms of how to proceed with what they've built. They've built this civilization, this assemblage of peace and humanity. Glenn's perspective is coming more from a "Let's keep that intact. Let's not throw our caution to the wind and build on this."

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Chad Coleman (Tyreese)
Tyreese's challenge: Holding on to his sanity. He's going to be tested in a major way. In this postapocalyptic world, no one goes unscathed. I appreciate his even temperament and his propensity to back away from violence. But the greatest intentions can't hold because the stakes are too high and we're not on a fair playing field. So there are parts of Tyreese that must be spoiled. Whether it has to be dragged out of him or not, the world's going to close in on him.

Larry Gilliard Jr. (Bob)
Bob's challenge: Fitting in with the group. He's been solo and now he's part of a true group. He's also battling his demons on top of the zombie apocalypse.

The Walking Dead returns Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC. Hit the comments below with what you're looking forward to seeing. Stay tuned to THR's The Live Feed on Sunday after the episode for our weekly episode dissections.

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